Motion Control Joins the Efficiency Revolution

Smart machine builders are using innovative designs, components, software and production methods to save energy, materials and expenses.

By Jim Montague, executive editor

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Intelligence is just like a Swiss Army knife or other multi-purpose tool that you can apply in different situations to solve many types of problems.

What's different now is that some machines and their controls are being endowed with more of the analytical capabilities of their human counterparts, so they can make better operating decisions and save power and other expenses more quickly and easily. These skills may be rooted in combinations of more powerful microprocessors, better software, more sophisticated robotics, more pervasive networks or cloud-based data processing, but, whatever their source, they're enabling new levels of efficiency for machine builders and their end users.

Savings start with motion

In recent years, probably the most popular way to make machines more energy efficient has been moving from less-flexible induction motors and drives, which are typically on at full power or off, and implementing variable-frequency drives (VFDs) and servo motors, which allow much wider ranges of speeds and power levels and can save a lot power doing the same jobs.

For instance, BW Container Systems, in Lynchburg, Virginia, recently developed its latest AdaptA Series mini-buffering (MB) and multi-lane (ML) conveyor systems for preventing traditional slips, gaps, bumping, pressure, damage and other line inefficiencies among containers running between close-coupled machines. AdaptAMB runs containers around a u-turn wheel that automatically extends or retracts to lengthen or shorten the containers' single-file path, which helps with queuing and feeding to reduce damage (Figure 1). This buffering also helps AdaptA ML, which employs pressureless infeeding to accumulate containers in a transfer station with four to 24 lanes.

"The real estate between machines is at a premium, but this means conveyors often run inefficiently, and so containers need buffering," says Tom Spangenberg, business unit director at BW Container Systems, which includes Barry-Wehmiller's Fleetwood, CBI-Fleetwood, Goldco-Wyard and Ambec divisions. "There's a wide variety of buffering approaches, but users also want easy access and the ability to handle many different products and containers with stability."

To achieve optimal efficiency, simplify control and minimize energy use, AdaptAMB is driven by a 2-hp Nord motor with VFD and a switch chain, while AdaptA ML uses two servo motors and a ControlLogix PLC. Meanwhile, AdaptAMB's wheel uses two motors and two VFDs, and the transfer station relies on three servos. "AdaptA is controlled like a symphony," says Spangenberg. "Mini-buffer's u-turn grows or shrinks as needed, and so users don't have to worry about manually moving devices or handoffs, which used to be very complex."

So far, AdaptA has been implemented by about a dozen food, beverage and consumer product manufacturers, and Spangenberg reports it's achieving 5-20% efficiency gains. "One customer said they saved about $200,000 in damage to their food containers," adds Spangenberg. "However, AdaptA is also transforming us beyond being a machine provider to doing data acquisition for our customers and also delivering higher-level line efficiencies and overall system improvements."

Likewise, Komo Machine in Lakewood, New Jersey, recently needed to build a new, more affordable version of its Mach One GT MTX open-bed, gantry-style router for milling wood, plastics, composites and sheet metal at about 80 sheets per day (Figure 2). Consequently, Komo decided to control its x and y gentry axes and z spindle axis by integrating an IndraMotion MTX micro CNC system and IndraDyn S MSK 60 servo motors from Bosch Rexroth.

See Also: How Better Control Can Pay Off With Improved Machine Efficiency

MTX micro includes high-capacity CNC controls, integrated PLC compliant with IEC 61131-C programming standards, integrated HMI and a 32-bit processor that supports up to six CNC motion axes with control of up to four interpolated axes of motion at any time. Optimized for milling applications, MTX micro supports 2.5D and 3D milling and free positioning of the workpiece coordinate system in space, and it includes many NC capabilities in a compact platform, such as 1,000 NC blocks with look-ahead functions, axis-specific jerk limitations and control of interpolated milling sequences down to the nanometer level.

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